Making a Statement of Faith

As of this morning, I am no longer an employee of Emmanuel Bible College.  After something like nine years of teaching English literature there, I am no longer able to sign the school’s statement of faith, and so it withdrew its offer of a contract this fall.

My feelings are mixed, because I enjoyed my time at EBC, especially my opportunity to meet the students, some of whom I would now count among my friends, and I am saddened that I will no longer have the opportunity to be an alternative voice for them at the school, but I am increasingly uncomfortable, not only with some of the specific elements that the school includes in its statement of faith, but also with the very idea of a statement of faith, at least in the sense of a standardized list of criteria for orthodoxy.  It is not that I object to the idea of people or even organizations expressing what they believe, but I do object to the idea that these kinds of statements should be or possibly could be definitive of belief.

When we make statements of faith, we need always to recognize how provisional and impossible they are, how inadequate they necessarily are to say anything definitive about God, never mind something prescriptive for those who might be trying to know God.  To assume that any such statement could possibly include all those who are sincerely seeking God is simple pride and hubris, and to exclude on the basis of any such statement can only serve to increase division among people whose common purpose is, at least in theory, to know God better.

In my own case, for example, I object to the statement of faith affirming a belief in the Bible before a belief in God, and also to its description of the Bible as “the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct,” an idea that the Bible does not itself contain and that runs counter to the Bible’s frequent depiction of God working also through tradition and personal revelation.  I would say that God, not the Bible, is the only supreme authority, and that the Bible is a means, one of several, through which God communicates.

None of this should put me essentially at odds with most of the people at the school.  It is a point of theological difference where we might disagree, but it is not a matter where the sincerity of anyone’s belief is in question.  Yet, the assumption that we all need to affirm the same list of theological criteria in order to be orthodox, and perhaps to affirm several different lists as we go from church to work to camp to community drop-in center, imposes a final and irrevocable division between us.  This is a great sadness to me.

Let me propose an alternative.  Suppose that each of us, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof, was expected to have a personal statement of faith, even if it was only so short a thing as, “I haven’t a clue what to believe,” and what if we were to regard these things not as prescriptive in any way, but as opportunities to engage one another about these questions that, whatever we believe about them, lie at the core of our humanity, and what if we were expected to hold these statements of faith, not absolutely and for all time, but with equal amounts of humility and passion, so that we would be as willing to admit the possibility that we were wrong as we would be willing to live fully what we believe is right.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this supposition would have me teaching my students this fall.

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41 comments
  1. Dorothy Gordon said:

    Luke…I could not agree more. The idea that “we are the people and wisdom will die with us” has rankled with me for quite a while.

    I have learned a great deal when attending services with Ted…what a surprise to find that his church family has so much in common with mine, and what pride is shown when any group thinks they have it all right.

    love you…Gram

  2. Rob said:

    Luke,
    I time to time peak in on your blog. Very interesting turn of events that has happened to you and your family. I too am saddened that you will not be teaching students at the place you have been for 9 years.

    In reading your post, I have a couple questions.
    1. What other ways does God communicate besides the Bible?
    2. If we have a personal statement of faith, should it not be absolute (at least to us). What is the point in believing something, when even you believe it to not be concrete truth.

    You can still be humble and hold to a perceived absolute truth.

    Your perceived absolute truth may be down the road viewed by you to be wrong, but still you must have a perception of a absolute truth to believe anything.

  3. Rob,

    Thanks for your questions.

    1. I would say that God also communicates through the community of those who seek God, through the traditions of this community, through personal revelation, through natural or general relation, through human experience and wisdom, and so forth.

    2. I would suggest that concrete or absolute truth is unknowable to human understanding in any concrete or absolute way. Put differently, human beings are incapable of comprehending absolute truth, and so any truth that I may hold is therefore not absolute. This means that I hold my beliefs, not as absolute truths that could ever hope to define God or faith, but only as the necessarily inadequate attempts so seek and find, not by virtue of my rightness, but by the virtue of God’s grace. It is not my beliefs that are absolute, never and in no case. It is only my believing that can attain to the absolute, insofar as God condescends to meet it and fulfill it.

  4. Rob said:

    Interesting.

    I would think you would agree that God is all knowing? So then that what God communicates must be absolute truth.

    Since God communicates to us, through the ways you have said, then knowing absolute truth must be knowable.

    Therefore, absolute truth is knowable if one listens to what God communicates.

  5. Allan Heidman said:

    Luke,
    if God communicates through the Bible and also through all of the other means which you describe, what do we do when, say, the community which seeks God acts in contradiction to the Bible? Which takes authority? I’ve always understood that special revelation must always be checked against previous special revelation, namely, the written Word of God. Thoughts?

  6. Rob,

    God may be all knowing and may have absolute truth, but that does not in any way imply that we are capable of understanding the truth absolutely, just as when you communicate something to a child, the child may not be able to understand you, though you have communicated it correctly. The inadequacy is in us, not in God, and it is essential to us. If we really could understand truth absolutely, we would no longer be human, but gods ourselves.

  7. Allan,

    I would affirm the idea that all forms of revelation should be checked one against the other, because they help inform and interpret each other. Any interpretation of the Bible is in this sense also a personal and specific revelation as God inspires our reading of the scriptures, not some absolute and self-evident point of fact, one form of revelation working with another in us. This is why the same scriptures have been interpreted so differently in different times and places and cultures, because they are always being inspired, when they are approached in the right spirit, always being made new.

  8. Brian said:

    Hi Luke,

    As a former student of yours, I’m sad to hear that other students won’t enjoy the same time in your classes that I did. The classes I took with you are hands down a highlight of my time at EBC.

    I remember during one of our classes having this exact discussion, and finding myself nodding in agreement. Since that time, I have been saddened to encounter several statements of faith that place the Bible ahead of God. I completely agree that this does nothing but limit our understanding of how God reveals truth, and places the Bible in a dangerous position in our relationships with God.

    I want to thank you for the time you gave for discussions, both on and off topic (and for introducing me good coffee!!) I can only hope that you’ll find a way to continuing teaching!

    Thanks for everything,

    Brian Cotie

  9. Allan Heidman said:

    I’m not sure I understand. I see how the Bible can inform me and how I can check my experience with God against the Bible, but I don’t see how my experiences can inform the Bible, nor do I see how the Bible can check itself against my personal revelation. How can I inform what the Bible says? And should I even attempt to inform what the Bible says? I can change my interpretation of the Bible but I cannot change the Bible. With that understanding, is it not the case that the Bible’s words are more authoritative than my own words? If I, a Christian, believe that I have received a revelation from God and it is clearly in contradiction to what the Bible says, is it not true that the Bible should take authority for me? Just seeking to understand you better.

  10. Brian,

    Thanks very much for your kind words. I appreciate them very much.

  11. Allan,

    Firstly, our interpretation of the Bible is always being made through our personal experience, which hopefully includes the personal revelation of God speaking in us. In this sense, our personal revelation is always informing and directing our understanding of the special revelation of the Bible. An objective interpretation of the Bible apart from this personal revelation is impossible. There is no simple and objective biblical truth that we can know apart from interpretation.

    Secondly, the Bible is only a book and without spiritual value of any kind except that God inspires our reading of it, except that God inspires a personal revelation through it, in other words. In this sense, there cannot be an interpretation of the Bible that is not also a kind of personal revelation, and any interpretation of the Bible that does not involve this kind of inspiration would be spiritually dead.

    What this means practically is that, “what the Bible says”, as you put it, is always in practice, “what we interpret the Bible to say,” which is already an idea that has been formulated in a relationship between personal revelation and the special revelation of the Bible. It is not that one “has authority” over the other. It is that our faith is worked out in fear and trembling as we use both of them along with other forms of revelation to seek God more fully.

    We need to get away from our idolatrous understanding of the Bible as a sort of magical receptacle containing unmediated truth. The writing and the reading of it, even if they were and are inspired, as I believe they are and can be, are still mediated through frail and inadequate human language and understanding. The Bible is a place, not where we can know absolute truth, which will always be beyond us, but where we can come to be in the absolute truth, even as we acknowledge how little of it we can really know. It is not a place to formulate theologies, at least not first and foremost. It is a place to meditate on the grace that we have received despite how inadequate our theologies are and will always be.

  12. Curtis said:

    How does one approach this, with condolent congratulations?

    I’ve a long time agreed with everything you’ve said here, Luke, as we’ve talked about it many times, in class and otherwise.

    It has always seemed to me, that as a friend once described it ‘bibliolatry’, is one of the most ironic ‘heresies’ to come out of primarily the evangelical tradition. And as you say, it never quite lines us up with how these ‘statements of faith’, produce themselves within institutions and upon people. They never really absorb these necessary human moments where the scripture is very clear, imposing chaos, within and without bombard us constantly- and still, for the most part, ‘it is good.’ There’s none of this discussion about important problems in biblical narrative- the problems created by the Spiritual and the human- Samson having to touch a dead thing to gain God’s favour from the honey in a dead ass’ head- impossible situation, one we would do well to examine in our lives- Ezekiel is told to mount up a bonfire with human shit to cook his dinner, a violation of the law, but he knows without doubt, god has asked him to do this. Elijah goes out in the storm to a hopeless place. The old widow gives her last two bits and goes home trying to find some reason not to hang herself- and the list goes on and on. The world, held in the clasp of a powerful and planning god, surges forward on science, on new communications- and still the followers cling to the old ‘total system’, and foget that god is rather vulgar, and sensible in how he chooses to ‘speak’ to people- and even that description maybe too precise. But as Howard O’Hagan has it in Tay John: ‘Perhaps a man with faith is always a material man, for he comes to prize too dearly the tangible symbols that hold him and confirm him in his way- a priest who desires and has the love of god cannot be humble. Like all me of possessions he comes to fear the outer world.’ and yet cannot fathom ‘assailed by doubt, shall [their faith] thrive the more.’

    I wonder though, for yourself, Luke, since there is always a whirling thing in you about what you expect in terms of education, openness- what does the improved version or less apprehensive/ less-preemptive form for which you would be looking for in a statement of principles and conduct- I understand that maybe difficult to express, given the nature of events- and might not be possible, given the desire for wider approach to learning- but is there anything you feel- well precisely, how might we seek for, or produce clauses which are not empty, but are not closed and total, what does the balance, if there can be one, appear for you in your experiences- can it be articulated with more than, this unfortunate, though necessary resignation?

    God’s Speed and much peace?

    • Curtis,

      I would say that a sincere articulation of faith is never empty, even and especially if it is inadequate, because whatever truth that it attains is granted to it bu God through grace, rather than through the adequacy of my arguments. The task then, as I see it, is to have a faith that is never content simply to make a statement, but that is constantly seeking to work itself out in fear and trembling.

  13. Sarah said:

    Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. – John 17:17

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

    If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. – Deuteronomy 13:1-4

    Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. – Acts 20:30

    If we cannot know absolute truth, there would be no concern about distorting it. When we are warned to watch out for those who distort the truth, there is an assumption made that we can infact know truth, and it is extremely important that we do. If we were unable to know truth, we would not be responsible for sin and nobody could be sent to Hell. However, God has made Himself known through the scriptures, so we are now responsible for our actions. And there are plenty of prophecies and revelations that come through demons. If it doesnt line up with scripture, we have reason to reject it.

    You may say I misinterpret Acts 20:30, but if you choose to claim that you will be proving yourself wrong, as you claim there are no correct or incorrect interpretations.

    I would also like to add that Jesus was really a frog, according to my interpretation of scripture. If you dont believe me, you must believe in an absolute truth, and one that is knowable. Otherwise anything goes, and soon we have every and any sin accepted in the church, we have people denying Christ, and there is really no point to scripture or to even having a church.

  14. Curtis said:

    I’m sorry to jump in here, if I am a distraction, Luke, there are no hard feelings with the removal of this post, I can’t speak for you and do not presume to- but I do have some questions for Sarah myself.

    Sarah,

    If truth must be the absolute, some form of incontestable, undeniable fact- where is the struggle of faith- is this simply the human being struggling with God’s commands, or do we not experience, at some point total dark nights of the soul?

    Second, perhaps you’re not in a position to answer this Sarah, and I appologise if you’re not- why is it that these positions of certain Christians are obsessed with knowledge, good and bad? Isn’t this the origins of our problems as a species, our need of knowledge and its classification?

    And third, in my reading of scripture, would you recommend that I do or do not distinguish between a book and Jesus?

  15. Sarah,

    I didn’t say that we can’t know truth. I said that we can’t know truth absolutely. I’m not challenging the idea of truth. I’m challenging the way that we think we know it.

    When Jesus says that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free, the word ‘know’ is the same one that is used to describe making love, in the sense that “they knew each other.” The knowing that is being described here is not, “You will know an objective set of theological propositions and it will set you free.” It is, “You will intimately experience the truth and it will set you free,” in the same way that I intimately know my wife even though I will never be able to define her by a set of abstract principles.

    This isn’t to say that I can’t know anything about my wife. I’m pretty sure that she’s not a frog. It’s just to say that my own frail and inadequate understanding is incapable of comprehending absolutely something as complex and wonderful as another human being, even if I have spent the last twenty years of my life with her, and if this is true of a human being, how much more is it true of a God whose thoughts and ways are high above my thoughts and ways.

    We can indeed know truth, and it will set us free, but we will never completely comprehend or understand it, never be able to set it down in a list of statements that will adequate to it. And we don’t need to. What we need to do is to stop trying to define God once and for all, and start trying to love God once and for all.

    When Jesus is asked what we must do to be saved, he does not give a list of theological statements. Far from it. He says, “Love God with everything you are, and love your neighbour as yourself,” so by all means discuss theology, as we are doing now, but don’t for a second fall into believing that it is your theology that essential to your relationship with God. That place belongs only to love.

  16. Jacob said:

    Hey Luke,

    I didn’t get to know you as well as some of the other students, but I remember you as a very warm and knowledgeable person. I did take your J term course on documenting justice and let’s face it getting a credit for discussing justice in light of modern documentary film is nothing short of bad ass.

    As for this blog, you point to some very interesting challenges the community of faith has always and is currently facing. Relatively versus absolute truth is a difficult subject to be sure.

    I myself split on this subject all the time. On the one hand I see the Prophets, Priests and Apostles in the Bible with a righteous zeal defending the revelation and truth of God. On the other hand I see a church in ruins, full off arrogance and out of touch with the issues of modern society.

    Where do you suggest we find balance?

    Blessings,
    Jacob

  17. Jacob,

    Let me be clear. I am not advocating relativism (at least not in the sense that it is popularly understood). I am saying that if there is an absolute truth (and I think there is, though probably not in the way we would like), it cannot be comprehended by human intellect, reason, language, or anything else. It is not the truth that is relative, only our understanding of it. Our approach to truth, therefore, to God, is not to try to define or rationalize it, but to love it, to seek after it, to approach it in humility, to recognize that we cannot have the truth, only be in it, that we cannot possess God, only to be in God and have God be in us. This is not relativism. It is the admission of our own inadequacy before something as indefinable, inexpressible, and ineffable as God.

  18. Jacob said:

    Luke,

    I really appreciate your clarification; I find your thoughts very encouraging. Also, I apologize if I misunderstood your original thoughts. I really like the approach you have taken to Scripture, the Christian community and our personal walk of faith. These kinds of discussion need to be taking place on a larger scale. It’s a shame that in organized settings, it is so often taboo to talk about this stuff.

    I’ll be honest with you; institutional Christianity and “ministry” has me totally warn out and I think the tragedy you are pointing out is a big part of that. I find myself often running the risk of becoming a cynic as a result.

    I think you’ve really caught on to something here and we need to start considering it as a community. But we are all so stubborn! (I include myself in this category first and foremost).

    How can this message be gracefully and effectively communicated?

    Jacob

  19. Another Brian said:

    I have a quote in my collection that I’m having trouble attributing: “That which we are for strengthens us. That which we are against, makes us weak.”

    This quote reminds me of the power of seeing the positive in all we can, without rejecting what we perceive as negative — when we reject summarily, it only harms us. A statement of faith that explicitly rejects openness and refuses to look for God in all His expressions and creations only weakens itself and those that cling to it.

    I applaud your decision. A statement of faith that seeks to define a person to the point of limiting them to “a standardized list of criteria” would be seen by some as very much a statement of non-faith, of distrust in God’s revelation.

    Indeed, the concept of criterion implies judgement. An organization is judging you against their statement of faith, with all its inadequacies, and being against you and against open honest faith, will only make that organization weaker.

  20. Jacob said:

    Also Luke,

    If I could also share a similar experience, I can very much understand where you are coming from. I was recently offered an opportunity for ordination from a church I am no longer attending. The strings attached were what I seen as too heavy a burden to carry and I declined the opportunity as a result.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  21. Jacob,

    Your question of how to engage these issues gracefully is the one that has been confronting me most strongly and most often lately, and it is made more difficult because the ways of understanding knowledge and truth that I am trying to overturn are not just present in the christian church but in our culture as a whole, where we value scientific and mathematical and rational ways of knowing much more highly than spiritual and experiential and emotional ways.

    My first principle when initiating these conversations is that I do not want them to devolve into mere confrontation because this serves no one, but the beliefs in question or so sensitive and so deeply held that people often respond quite aggressively, and more often than I would like my only option to avoid conflict is simply to step back from the conversation entirely.

    I have no good answers to this question, at least none that can be applied generally. I only hope, as I seek to speak as faithfully as I can, that God will use what say.

    What I find most frustrating is that we often become so bogged down in this conversation that we never get to the good bit, which is, your theology doesn’t have to be perfect for God to love you or for you to love God, and in the end, this is my point. We spend so much time trying to find the perfect set of criteria that will determine spiritual orthodoxy, and all the while we forget Christ’s own much simpler and yet more impossible criteria: “Love God with everything you are, and love your neighbour as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

  22. Another Brian,

    Thanks for your support, but I want to make clear that I hold nothing against EBC or anyone that works there. There was no other choice for them to make except to reevaluate the entire social / cultural / religious premise of their organization, which is a bit much to ask. At no time did I ever feel that anyone there treated me with ill will. The conflict was not between EBC and I, but between a culturally entrenched way of understanding faith and someone who was finding that understanding unsatisfactory and struggling to articulate something different. I wish them every blessing.

  23. Isaiah said:

    I for one would join in if you still made your autumn monday morning trips to Kitchener and held informal discussions at a Cafe with interested interlocutors. The conversations, and the education, can surely continue outside the classroom even to a greater extent. A way of learning in the spirit of Ivan Illich.

    Speaking of Illich and on a personal note I do want to thank you for interesting me to some really important thinkers and ideas (Illich being the foremost of them).. they continue to shape my life in surprising, hopeful ways.

    • Isaiah,

      Thanks you for your kind words. I might consider coming to see you guys in Kitchener sometimes in the fall, though hopefully I will have found other work by then. In any case, I would surely love a place where we could do learning in the spirit that Illich espoused. I’ll have to give that idea some thought.

  24. Allan Heidman said:

    Luke,
    Thanks for your responses. I understand what you mean I think. I sympathize with your concern over our idolatry of the Bible. I am afraid however that you are at risk of diminishing the importance of the Bible to us. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it feels like you want to put the Bible on the same level as personal feelings or personal revelations from God. I understand the desire for that and I agree with it to a point. However, the danger is in allowing personal revelation to go unchecked against special revelation within the Word of God.

    For example, if I feel that God has spoken to me and shown me that Jesus has not been resurrected from the dead and that his sacrifice is not efficient for my salvation, and I also believe that this personal revelation from God is of the same authority and power as the special revelation from God within his special and revealed written word, how do I determine which revelation is from God and which is a deception?

    To my mind, it’s only logical to conclude that, in this case, the written word of God is the true revelation and my own personal revelation needs to be filtered through that written word.

    I understand the idea of wanting to avoid an idolatry of the Bible, but I also caution against diminishing the power of the written word by suggesting that it’s only a book with no more authority than the word of a community of believers or of the personal revelation of an individual. Jesus himself appealed to it with the words “It is written” as he was tempted in the desert. He saw it as authoritative. We are to do the same I think.

    I think you can hold the Bible as the authority on matters of faith without idolizing it. I am sure that’s what EBC is all about, though I’ve never been there. I do respect your decision very much. That would not be an easy move to make. May you sense God’s calling for the future.

    • Allan,

      I would like to think that I am not diminishing the authority of the Bible so much as I am recognizing the authority of other ways that God communicates to us, because while I would absolutely agree that Christ references the Hebrew scriptures as authoritative (including some scriptures that Protestants now consider apocryphal and some that are now lost to us, by the way), there are also many occasions on which he references his personal relationship with the Father as authoritative. Now, Christ is a singular case, but the apostles also function in this way, even in some pretty radical cases, where their personal revelation overturns things like Hebrew dietary laws and the need for circumcision. Clearly these apostles still referenced the Hebrew scriptures as authoritative, but they also regarded personal revelation as equally or even more authoritative in at least some cases.

      I understand that this possibility seems frightening, in the sense that it becomes far more difficult to determine orthodoxy when we begin to regard God rather than the Bible as the final authority, because the judgement is no longer ours, but I would suggest that the judgement has never been ours, and the assumption that it ever was is one of our greatest errors.

      I also understand that this approach seems likely to allow heresies to multiply, but it is only necessary to see how little most churches actually follow the teaching of Christ rather than culture or tradition to recognize that idolizing the Bible is no guarantee against bad theology, because there is in fact no guarantee against bad theology. All our theology is bad, and this is not the end of the world. It is the beginning. It is the point at which we can admit, at long last, that our theologies are not the crucial bit anyway, that our hearts are judged not by the way they formulate their theology but by how they love God and neighbour.

      This is not to say that theology isn’t important, because otherwise what we are doing here, and what we do whenever we see and speak to one another, would be a waste of time. Quite the opposite, I would say that it is essential for us to be continually working out our faith in fear and trembling. It is to say that this theologizing can never hope to be definitive, should not even have this as its goal. Rather, its goal should be only that we love God and neighbour more.

  25. Adam said:

    Luke,

    I am very sad to hear of this. Thank you for the wisdom that you imparted to me through your many insights in literature and God. It has always been interesting and a blessing to speak with you. I pray that God will lead you to further His kingdom more and more. I know that you have touched many people’s lives at EBC and I know that there are many people that agree with what you have to say. I am sad to say but sometimes those that rock the boat get booted off the boat and in this case that is what happened. I just hope that you remember that your efforts were not in vain and that God will reward you for following Him and not that the legalistic patterns that many fall into at EBC. God bless Luke, and be the blessing that you are.

    Adam White.

    • Adam,

      Thank you very much for your support. It is the opportunity to speak with you, the students, to teach and to learn from you, that I will miss most. I hope there will be other such opportunities for me, because to see you all grow in your lives and in your faith has been my reward all through my time teaching there.

  26. Allan Heidman said:

    Luke,
    Your suggested proposal sounds an awful lot like Unitarian Universalism. It sounds wonderful, but presents some serious problems when we gather for worship and mission. Who do we worship? Do we all agree on who we are worshipping? No? Well let’s worship anyway.

    Further, your proposal may be suitable for a classroom at a UU institution, but it will always be extremely challenging (impossible?) for a worshipping community to engage in mission when they openly celebrate the idea that each individual defines what that mission is.

    You will find it challenging to connect yourself up with a Christian organization (or any organization for that matter) when your expectation is for that organization to let you teach whatever you want to teach. That seems highly unreasonable and unrealistic… even if it sounds awesome!

    I guess I just question the practicality of your proposal. Although, I also question the practicality of actually living out a life with the Bible as the supreme authority on all matters of faith. That’s why we need Jesus as savior.

    However, my main issue lies in the idea that you have still not addressed how we handle a situation where personal revelation comes into conflict with scripture. One has to take authority over the other. If it doesn’t, then you’re stuck between two equal but contradicting truths. I have the inkling that you lean more toward personal revelation taking authority. Would you say this is correct?

  27. Allan,

    I would not say that either the Bible or personal revelation takes authority, and I would even suggest that the idea of one needing to have authority over the other is part of the problem. I would say that God takes authority,and that both forms of revelation (and others) contribute to the working out of our faith in fear and trembling.

    This relates as well to your question about how an organization determines how it will teach or worship, because God also reveals through the community and through tradition, and so it is necessary that we be working out these questions as a community, not so that we can arrive at one definitive answer once and for all, but so that we can always be striving to know God more. The community engages these questions continually, probably finding some sort of consensus, but always admitting room for disagreement and discussion, and so we recognize the places where there is disagreement between us, and we allow ourselves to be changed if it becomes necessary.

    You can see this work its way out practically in the history of the Christian church. The very oldest statements of faith, for example, like the apostles’ creed, do not even mention the scriptures, never mind ascribe to them the kind of absolute authority that evangelical protestantism has. The Christian community has not always understood the scriptures as it does now, and its understanding will continue to change. There is no fear in this, not so long as we are sincerely seeking to follow God, and not if God has the power, as I believe God does, to find us and guide us as we seek.

    This is why the question of how we regard the Bible is so crucial to me, because as long as we insist that one particular interpretation of the Bible is so authoritative that it limits even God’s ability to speak to us and to move in us, then we will stagnate and die. By all means, love the scriptures. Meditate on them. Know that they are useful for teaching and exhortation and leading into righteousness. But don’t do them the injustice of giving them precedence over God very God.

  28. Curtis said:

    Pardon me for interjection in some of the quandaries posed by Mr. Heidman, but I have some feelings to interpose by context from scripture:

    Primarily, being that, in orthodox terms, the ‘modern’ body of, at least the theological context of the church, has many more divine resources at its disposal than say, most of those involved in the biblical canon. Those of the ‘old’ testament, are not ‘spiritually’ indwelt by god, they merely have the spirit come upon them etc. They also do not have a compendium of law and scripture- and I wonder, very much, how legitimate the notion of ‘authority’ is, when you consider that many of the books of the bible are not much more than the equivalent of ‘pundits’ works for their day and age. They’re literally freelancers, farmer, subversives in court and the temple and on occasion, embassadors with no letters of official mark to display that they come, reliably, with credentials to anyone they speak to; who have had visions or been talked to by god. For all these draw backs according to the modern people of god, they seem to know right away when god is talking to them, even that it is god talking or commanding them to do things contrary to his own law- they know without biblical cross reference that this is god, asking them to take his favour for dead things, to build fires of shit, that the friends around the fire while they suffer with boils have no idea what they’re talking about- that they should stop saying what is ‘unclean’ and should simply slay and eat. At one point someone says ‘Our God is a raging fire’, but in his despair and suicidal entertainment, the voice in the wilderness does not find god in the raging fires. One of the greatest ironies about this deep adherence to scripture is that it not only creates odd and dangerous theologies [like the idea that all creation is fallen, in fact you’ll find that it’s really expresses no where the idea of being apostate, but that humanity is its sole source of suffering- and is yearning for the day that humanity will be adult enough to stop badgering it]- and truthfully- it’s strange that this page reader doctrine completely skips over the most enormous theme in scripture- that we, humanity, are in both self-interest and mental capacity- complete idiots! We have no clue what is really going on, which is not the root of Luke’s over all point, but does include it in terms of his insistance that the point is not accuracy, or limitation, maybe not even openness, but holiness, beattitude, the mild fruits of an actual spiritual power, which consists of some kind of knowledge, a knowledge which does not compel his ascent through absolutism but the worth of its experience. Though that description is not my meaning- my question to summarise with these pecularities, Mr. Heidman, is how is that these contexts are left out of the biblical ‘authority’, and how should we be addressing them today in the insistent attitude that apparently nothing in scripture any longer resists the understanding of we simple humans- and that this has literally bled out into life itself, confined, apparently, inside scripture?

  29. Curtis said:

    Sorry for getting carried away in length there, I should have broken that into paragraph.

  30. Allan Heidman said:

    Luke,
    I don’t think we can limit God’s ability to speak with us if we insist on one particular interpretation of Scripture. I don’t think God is at all frustrated by us to the point where he feels limited by us.

    Further, I did not think that you had an issue with a particular interpretation of Scripture. I understood that you did not think the Bible should be seen as the supreme authority in matters of faith. The Bible can be interpreted in many ways. This doesn’t change the principle that the Scriptures need to be seen as authoritative.

    When you refer to the apostles creed, you need to remember that such creedal confessions were established and preserved because of their dependence and/or support from the Scriptures. So, while it is true that the Apostles Creed does not mention Scripture, it is also true that the Apostles Creed would have faded into obscurity long ago were it not strongly backed by the authority of the Scriptures.

    I really feel like you confuse “Authority of Scripture” with “Worship of Scripture”. If you believe that those who wrote the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit and that they were inspired to write what they wrote, then you need to allow for the Scriptures to carry some authority, which I think you do.

    I do read my Bible, but I don’t do it because I worship it. I do it so that the God I worship will speak to me through what he has said previously. I do it to know God.

    I think a community of believers ought to have an extremely high view of the Scriptures. It is through the scriptures that we have been made aware of our depravity and also of God’s salvation. It is through the Scriptures, and the proclamation of the message within, that we are made aware of how God has demonstrated his love for us.

    Now, as for God speaking to us, God does speak to us outside of Scripture. I am where I am today because I heard the call of God. I did not read that call in the scriptures. But that’s not the point here. The point is this: Authority is not the same thing as calling or revelation. It seems to me that you feel that the Bible should not have supreme power of “revelation” in matters of faith. I think you’ve confused the word “authority” with the word “revelation”.

    “Authority” does not mean that we only hear God’s voice when we read the Scripture. Authority means that we can test voices and callings by the authority of Scripture. God does speak to individuals when they are not reading the Bible. I would attest to that personally. But we also must remember that there are more voices at work in the world than the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are, as you say, useful for teaching rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Why? Because they come from God’s heart! When you sense a calling, you can test it and know it by also trusting the authority of Scripture and seeing if it contradicts what God has previously revealed there. This is why God has given them to us. I am certain that this is what is meant by EBC’s statement of faith.

    An answer in short to Curtis’ question: I think the fact that humans are complete idiots is reason enough for us to place trust in God and in what he has provided for us as his own self-revelation. The fact that humans are idiots is the very reason we have been given the Scriptures. We can trust the Scriptures because they come to us from God.

  31. Allan,

    I would say that when we put the Bible before God, when we refer to it as the absolute and only authority (even though it does not claim this itself), and when we use it to foreclose on other ways that God might speak to us, then we are indeed worshiping it.

    I understand your distinction between authority and revelation, but the fact is that many evangelical Christians (including those who fashioned the statement of faith for EBC) specifically describe the Bible as an authority that is final, absolute, and inerrant, forgetting that the Bible itself never claims, forgetting that there are many other ways that God reveals that bear authority, as the Bible itself shows on many occasions.

    The Bible is certainly a place where God speaks to us, but further revelation has caused us to understand it differently as time as passed. Most of us now eat pork or expect women to wear head coverings, though the Bible specifies both of these things at different times. Most of us do not practice polygamy or slavery, though the Bible never condemns either. In all of these cases, God’s revelation through the Bible has been modified by God’s revelation through other forms of revelation. Even the idea that the Bible is inerrant is a later addition to Christian theology, one that came from the community of believers rather than from the Bible itself. To ignore this kind of revelation and regard the Bible as the sole mode of authoritative revelation is to ignore how God has worked time and time again throughout history.

    And unfortunately, EBC’s statement of faith leaves no room for any of this. It describes the Bible as “the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct,” and I can only believe that the supreme authority in everything and in every respect is God. When you put something else in that place, even the Bible, it is idolatry.

  32. Allan Heidman said:

    I think your interpretation of EBCs statement of faith is far to literalistic. I am certain that when they wrote the words “supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct”, they did not envision someone interpreting that to mean that God only speaks and reveals himself through the Bible.

    Also, the idea that the Bible is authoritative does not take away from the idea that the Bible is to be interpreted. So, we can reasonably say that head coverings are cultural symbols of their contextual time. We can reasonably say that polygamy is a bad idea because, even though it is not condemned in the Bible, it generally doesn’t work out well for people in the bible and that it’s a matter seems to have been settled by the time of the New Testament as it’s clearly understood that husbands are to love their wife (singular) as Christ loves the church and that Christian leaders are to be the husband of one wife etc.

    We can also say that slavery as understood in the Bible is an entirely different thing that the slavery we understand from 18th and 19th century North America. The former was economic and punitive, the latter was racial and prejudicial. Further still, the practice of slave trading is definitely condemned in 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Within the Bible, God gives clear directions for how slaves are to be treated within the economic and punitive system of the time.

    My point is this: We can read the Bible and we can interpret things differently. That doesn’t limit God, nor does it take away from the idea that the written word is from God and needs to be seen as authoritative among believers. One person could conclude that head coverings for women are necessary and another could conclude the opposite. Both are interpretations of conduct that we could draw from the Scriptures. That doesn’t take away the authoritative nature of the bible. The point is that the Bible has been taken seriously in both cases.

    Matters of faith are key as well. God has revealed himself in the pages of the scriptures. Yes, He reveals himself in other ways, but the point is that his revelation to us of who he is will not contradict scripture. He’s not going to say one thing and then suddenly say something contradictory just to mess with us. As I said, if I suddenly feel that God has revealed to me that he does not have a Son named Jesus, that’s a matter of faith and I can check it against the authority of the Scriptures and conclude that I have been deceived. I think that’s where EBC is coming from on this.

  33. Allan,

    I don’t think this is a question that we will resolved between us any time soon, certainly not in this forum. How about we talk about it in person the next time we meet?

  34. Allan Heidman said:

    Certainly!

    I’ve been considering what you say about how the Bible does not claim authority in itself. I’ve been looking over 1 Corinthians 4 this afternoon and it seems to me that Paul does indeed see his writing and his life as an apostle to be authoritative with respect to the faith and conduct of believers. Just something to consider.

    Looking forward to seeing you again. Always a good time!

  35. Lauren said:

    I don’t have anything to add to the discussion, but I wanted to commend you for your integrity. Mike and I were talking about this and we both felt that many people (perhaps ourselves) would have just signed the document.

  36. Lauren,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I did in fact just sign the document for something like four years, and then I made a single alteration just to make myself feel better, and then this year I couldn’t do it any more. There are times, I think, when it is best just to sign the document, when there is more to be gained, even morally speaking, to swallow our scruples for a greater good, but I was personally at a point where I could no longer do this.

  37. John Jantunen said:

    Wow, Luke. Quite the dervish you have unleashed here. Still finding it a little hard to swallow that anyone could believe there’s any absolute truth discernable to us beyond the fact that 7 billions of us are stuck on a giant ball of warm and gooey hurtling through space without the sense to stop making each others lives so freaking miserable so forgive me if I sound a little testy but this here Absolute Truth these people are talking about, it doesn’t perchance have to do with (I’m whispering now, can you tell) keeping gay people from getting married because, man, I mean… It doesn’t, right?

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